Do you remember the first time?
I was young and stupid.
But not all that young, and more than stupid.
A student flat, late enough at night for it to be early in the morning.
Darkness outside and darkness inside, pierced by the dim glow of a nearby street light and by the sense of anticipation.
She was sweet and tender, a hooligan for love.
I only knew her first name.
I loved her the first time I saw her, which was only hours earlier.
Alcohol on her lips and on her breath.
Underneath a huge poster for an album I hadn’t heard by a band I didn’t know. “If You’re Feeling Sinister” by Belle and Sebastian.
Of course the truth is rarely pure and it is never simple.
That wasn’t the first time.
It wasn’t any time.
I wish it had been.
Now, a quarter of a century after I didn’t lose my virginity to the sort of girl who could have graced the cover of a Belle and Sebastian single, they are back with their first studio album since 2015’s “Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance”.
Hours before the album's release, Stuart Murdoch tweeted advice for people; “How to listen to our new LP if you are an established fan. Have a drink. Understand it’s not Sinister, Tigermilk or Arab Strap. Understand we can’t take you back to those days and the way you felt then. Listen to one track, maybe track 5. That’s enough for today.”
I don’t drink, so that was out.
Murdoch is right, this is not the same album, or the same sort of album, as the Holy Trinity of their first three albums. This isn’t twee pop, it isn’t going to upset the apple cart at the next Brit Awards and it isn’t going to change the language of pop in the same way.
Murdoch is wrong, this is an album that really does take you back to those days. Not because it sounds retro or nostalgic, it doesn’t, but it carries, in its heart, the same spirit and soul of the albums that made us all fall in love with these Byres Road bop ’n’ roll stars in the first place.
Murdoch is right, track 5 is a thing of grace and wonder. “Do It For Your Country”. His voice is gentle, soaring, reaching, the heart of a poet. He could be singing anything, absolutely anything, and your heart would break into a thousand pieces and then he would pick those pieces up and put them back together with a single note.
“The people that you fall in love with, are never what they say…”
Don’t I fucking know it, Stuart.
There are moments here where it seems ridiculous to countenance the idea that Belle and Sebastian ever had to labour under the label of twee pop. “Unnecessary Dreams” is the greatest single The Smiths never released, it’s a ferocious, indier than thou, rock ’n’ pop stomper. It sets your soul ablaze. “If I had a second encore, I would probably do the same, this is my life”.
There is even a Studio 54, Chic-alike, disco, floor filler with “Prophets on Hold”. In a world better than this, it would be the best selling single of the year, maybe of any year, and it would lead to five sold out nights at Knebworth, in front of a crowd of tens of thousands of people who know that the greatest indie album of all time is, actually, “You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever” by Orange Juice and not…oh, you know. They would all be dressed up like extras from an unmade movie about Alan Horne and Postcard Records, the boys looking like Roddy Frame and the girls like Clare Grogan in “Gregory’s Girl”.
A boy can dream.
Maybe I didn’t lose my virginity underneath a poster for “If You’re Feeling Sinister” but I lost my heart to it and, today, I’ve lost it all over again to the same band.